Allocating Energy

Many of us assume a reliable energy supply. When we switch on an electric light at home, brightness prevails. But what if nothing happens when you flip the switch? Do you think the light bulb has failed? Or perhaps you wonder if the wiring has somehow disconnected? I bet that few consider a failure in energy supply; it’s been too reliable.

Take a look at the energy allocation shown in the image below. On the left of the image are primary sources of energy supply for the USA. These feed the end-use sectors on the right. If the supply is less than demand then consumption must also be less. Now imagine you could choose which gets less. Do you select one sector? For example, do you prevent residents from lighting their houses. Or, do you prevent industry from manufacturing products and employing personnel? Or do you simply reduce energy supply and let consumers manage as best they can?

Currently, there are well known energy supply issues in the United Kingdom, China and India. Presumably in these locales many discussions seek to resolve who receives energy and who doesn’t. Are we ready and willing to plan for a civilization with reduced energy consumption? Do you want to be part of the plan or do you want to simply manage as best you can when the time comes?
EIA_Energy

Rebuilding After COVID-19

Through the ages, lethal viruses continually attacked homo sapiens. While at personal levels the attacks can be devastating, they’ve not slowed human population growth. For instance, the Spanish Epidemic of 1918 killed about 2% of the global human population, a horribly huge number. Yet, on looking solely at population growth rate, this pandemic had no visible effect.

Currently our species is being attacked by another virus, COVID-19. Through great determination and effort we seem to be slowly countering its deadly effect. In consequence, we see many leaders setting post pandemic return-to-work targets. Often, they borrow now to pay later to keep our population busily consuming resources as demanded by the markets. In consequence, as COVID-19 surrenders, we expect to see our species return to business as usual meaning more people and higher consumption, especially energy consumption.

In 2019, our primary energy consumption exceeded 583 exajoules annually; sourced mostly from non-renewable sources. On average, each person’s annual energy consumption exceeded 75 gigajoules. This is a huge amount, being over 1.5 times greater than the average in 1965 and obviously a huge increase over preindustrial times. But the supply of fossil fuels will end. So, when we build back better after COVID-19, wouldn’t we be wise to enable lifestyles for the future 10 billion inhabitants that doesn’t rely upon fossil fuels?
Tree recycling

Answers

Do you think it odd that we have answers to today’s ills and yet the ills don’t get cured? My favourite example is the cigarette. The cigarette’s fumes provide no benefit to the human body. Rather, it causes health problems that exacerbate with usage. Nevertheless, the global tobacco market amounts to $760M annually and has been in existence for hundreds of years. We’d be better off without smoking yet many choose ill health instead.

There are more ignored answers. The answer to climate change is to stop releasing the energy in the stored hydrocarbons. The answer to the loss of biodiversity is to reverse the human impact on Earth’s land surface. The answer to war is peace. These are all obvious yet as a species we continue to ignore these answers.

Why are we so self-destructive? Do we have a genetic disposition to do what we want, when we want? This disposition to independence may be why our numbers have grown exponentially and we live throughout Earth’s surface. Yet the future may require us to lose some of this independence such as when fighting a pandemic. Are you ready to give up some freedoms to help cure the ills facing us? Can you live in a future that has answers coming with many more social restrictions?

Spaceman

Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic space plane recently flew 85km up from the Earth’s surface. An incredible achievement for a private citizen. Even one who is a billionaire. Sadly, some (?many) people pooh-poohed this event as another rich person running amok. We disagree with these naysayers and we hope the future leads to more human adventures in space.

Let’s first recap. Do you know of the space race of the 1960s? This pure flag-waving exercise saw the government of the USA put a human on the Earth’s moon. And after a few more landings, humans stopped going. Afterward, many governments from around the world aided the construction of the International Space Station, an artificial Earth moon. It’s still up there. Humans have continuously inhabited the station since year 2000CE and performed a great number of experiments there. But governments haven’t taken up anything grander.

Now it’s interesting about democratic governments in that they are in place to lead today’s voters. And voters continually say that the future is much less important than the present. Anything that doesn’t provide an immediate return on investment is not palatable to them. Sadly, this means that governments typically sacrifice the future for a better today. Thus, even though we have solutions for so many of the ills which ail us, governments fail to effectively implement them because we the people don’t want them.

Hence, with the average person focused upon personal improvement then the future becomes solely the purview of the rich. And there are many rich, over 2700 billionaires. Sure some of them are more interested in corporeal pleasures. But others have shown particular concern for the future as with the Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation and its progress in countering malaria. And with Richard Branson and his space plane. And with Jeff Bezos and his space rocket. And with Elon Musk and his space company. We should be thankful to them in their pursuit of a future for humanity that could entail vast opportunities for the next generation while both we and our governments remain perhaps too focused on the day to day.

Virgin Galactic

Density

Will they fit? How many can you put into one space? These are questions of density. Sometimes the answer is easy to measure such as with determining the number of glass marbles that can fit within a box. Or, we can predict population densities over time with the Lotka Volterra predator-prey model. In all density calculations, it is a defined space that is key to the calculation.

Let’s set the space as the land surface of Earth and the question is, “How many people will fit?” For the record, some believe that at one time there were less than a hundred thousand hominin living on the surface. These easily fit and the density barely registers. Yet we predict the population this century to crest at over 10 billion humans. The resulting density is 83 people per square kilometre. It rises to 117 people per square kilometre when we locate people only on viable land cover, i.e. excluding deserts and such. This will be the average global density.

For comparison, at the end of the last glacial period about 12,000 years ago when humans lived as primitive hunter-gatherers, the estimated population was 2 million or about 0.02 people per square kilometre. Contrarily, in the city of Manila today, there’s a local density of 46,178 people per square kilometre. This increased density speaks to our prolificacy.

Density is important as it relates to the amount of resources humans consume. For instance, to maintain current density, we use a third of all Earth’s land surface for agriculture so as to produce food. What do you expect of the future as the human population continues to increase while the land surface remains constant? How can we use local density values to predict sustainability and future survival?